Thursday, June 21, 2007

On the Wings of Heroes by Richard Peck

Richard Peck is by far one of my favorite authors. He has written over thirty books, and received many awards, including a National Humanities Medal, a Newberry Medal, and the Scott O'Dell award. Many of his books take place in rural places during the 1930s and 40s, including his most recent On the Wings of Heroes.

On the Wings of Heroes is the story of Davy Bowman, his memories of the peaceful life his family had before World War II, the advent of the war, and the duration, as well as vignettes of how life changed in rural America during this period. Davy lives in downstate Illinois, with his father, mother, and older brother, Billy. Billy is nineteen and trains to be a fighter pilot, eventually leaving for England, and becoming MIA when his plane is downed in a drop over Stuttgart. Davy's father, a World War I vet and owner of the local filling station, fights his own battles with memories of his time in the service, big-shot government officials who think rationing rules don't apply to them, and the Mafia, who seek to sell him counterfeit gas coupons. Davy and his buddy, Scooter, unite their war efforts with rubber drives, scrap metal drives, paper drives, and the wonderful jalopy parade.

After Billy leaves for England, Grandma and Grandpa Riddle show up to stay. Grandma Riddle does everything she can to drive her daughter nuts, with the best of intentions the reader later learns. "So up we come, "Grandpa said, "to get Joyce out of the house and into a job somewheres. The wife says that waitin' on the mail is an old woman's job."

The book ends triumphantly with Davy celebrating both of his heroes, his brother, and his father. I recommend this book for all ages. We have enjoyed many of Peck's books as a family, including A Year Down Yonder, Long Way from Chicago, and Here Lies the Librarian. The only caution I have regarding this book is that there is a possible Santa "spoiler." Davy is too old to believe in Santa and Peck writes, "I woke up to the jangle of the sleigh bells on the old leather harness Dad had always rung to make me think Santa was just leaving."

I have also read The River Between Us, Peck's historical novel, about free black people escaping New Orleans during the Civil War. The characters are descended from and were basically raised to be mistresses for the white plantation owners of New Orleans. In the historical footnote at the end of the novel, Peck relates that these plantation owners that kept black women in luxurious town accommodations, were largely Catholic. The novel is a fascinating tale of two sisters, one light-skinned, the other dark, who in their flight to the North, pretend to be a white woman and her slave. I do not recommend this book for children. This book might be appropriate for mature young adults, high school age or older.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Few Oldies but Goodies

These authors are not contemporary, but classic.

I can find little biographical info on Gladys Malvern. Her books were first published in the 40s and are now out of print. Jonica's Island (the story of a young girl in Nieuw Amersterdaam in the 1600s) and The Foreigner (a fictionalized account of Ruth) are both excellent. Malvern wrote mostly historical fiction, romance, and biographies. These books are appropriate for all ages, but I love reading them now. (You never are too old for a good story, I guess that's why every five years or so I have to re-read the entire Anne of Green Gables series.) I picked up these titles when a Catholic school closed many years ago, and now I find that these books are worth a fortune on Amazon!

A. J. Cronin wrote the Catholic epic, The Keys of the Kingdom, which was made into an Academy award nominated motion picture with Gregory Peck. He also wrote The Citadel, Shannon's Way, and dozens of others. Many of his books take place in Scotland, and deal with the conflicts between Protestants and Catholics. Because of the heavier subject matter, these books are appropriate for teens and adults. It's not that they are inappropriate, I simply don't think kids will be interested in them. Cronin published from the 1930s through the 1970s.

A third author I recommend is James Herriott. His autobiographical books of veterinary life in Yorkshire from the 1930's to modern times are funny and romantic. Our family has listened to these stories on many road trips. Recommended for all ages.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

This 2002 Caudill Award Nominee is about Luke, a third child in a world where two children is the maximum. The setting is the not-too-distant future, after great famines have wiped out much of the food supply. A totalitarian government that has passed the Population Law rules the nation. Luke's mother has explained it to him this way, "They (the government) did things to women after they had their second baby, so they wouldn't have any more. And if there was a mistake, and a woman got pregnant anyway, she was supposed to get rid of it."

The novel begins with the government removal of the woods behind Luke's home for a subdivision. Because of the increased population near his home, Luke may never again go outside, or even downstairs, for fear someone may figure out that there are three boys in the house, and report them to the Population Police. The punishment for breaking this law is five million dollars or execution.

Luke's father is forced to give up hog raising. The government deems that more acreage is required for the production of meat than vegetation. Junk food has been banned. Calorie consumption is regulated. Domestic pets are extinct.

When the subdivision is complete, Luke watches the homes through the attic vents and learns about the families, their cars, routines etc. But one day, in the middle of the morning, when no one is supposed to be home, he sees a face at a window, another third. He meets Jen, the child of barons (the upper class), who has been in a car, uses a computer, and is working on a crusade to free the hidden third children of the nation. She was "paid for," genetically designed by her baron parents who wanted a girl. She teaches Luke that distribution not over-population is the cause of the world's hunger, and that the government lies about things. She plans a rally of one thousand hidden children that she has found through the internet. She asks Luke to come along, but he is afraid of capture and is not ready to take such a huge risk.

Jen is gone for several weeks, before Luke tries her home again. Jen's father finds Luke and tells him the horrible news that Jen and forty other hidden children were gunned down on the steps of the White House. Jen's father knows this, because he works for the Population Police. He convinces Luke that he is not for the Population Law, but works there to help hidden children, keeping them from being found or supplying them with fake id's when they are. He offers Luke a fake id, and a chance to escape from his hidden life. The Population Police will be searching the area soon looking for Jen's family or friends.

The book ends with Luke starting a new life, ready to take risks to help the hidden, but not reckless risks like Jen's.

There is a humorous mention of bras. Jen is describing the experience of shopping to Luke.
"And then she made me get a bunch of bras--oh, sorry," she said when Luke blushed a deep red. "I guess you don't talk much about bras at your house." "Matthew and Mark do, sometimes, when they're being...dirty," Luke said. "Well, bras aren't dirty," Jen said. "They're just torture device invented by men or mothers or something."

The lessons about propaganda, over-population, forced sterilization are scarily true for many parts of the world. Obviously, due to the mature material in the novel, it is not for all ages. Haddix has written a thought provoking novel that is appropriate for teens.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

On the Wings of Heroes by Richard Peck

Richard Peck is by far one of my favorite authors. He has written over thirty books, and received many awards, including a National Humanities Medal, a Newberry Medal, and the Scott O'Dell award. Many of his books take place in rural places during the 1930s and 40s, including his most recent On the Wings of Heroes.

On the Wings of Heroes is the story of Davy Bowman, his memories of the peaceful life his family had before World War II, the advent of the war, and the duration, as well as vignettes of how life changed in rural America during this period. Davy lives in downstate Illinois, with his father, mother, and older brother, Billy. Billy is nineteen and trains to be a fighter pilot, eventually leaving for England, and becoming MIA when his plane is downed in a drop over Stuttgart. Davy's father, a World War I vet and owner of the local filling station, fights his own battles with memories of his time in the service, big-shot government officials who think rationing rules don't apply to them, and the Mafia, who seek to sell him counterfeit gas coupons. Davy and his buddy, Scooter, unite their war efforts with rubber drives, scrap metal drives, paper drives, and the wonderful jalopy parade.

After Billy leaves for England, Grandma and Grandpa Riddle show up to stay. Grandma Riddle does everything she can to drive her daughter nuts, with the best of intentions the reader later learns. "So up we come, "Grandpa said, "to get Joyce out of the house and into a job somewheres. The wife says that waitin' on the mail is an old woman's job."

The book ends triumphantly with Davy celebrating both of his heroes, his brother, and his father. I recommend this book for all ages. We have enjoyed many of Peck's books as a family, including A Year Down Yonder, Long Way from Chicago, and Here Lies the Librarian. The only caution I have regarding this book is that there is a possible Santa "spoiler." Davy is too old to believe in Santa and Peck writes, "I woke up to the jangle of the sleigh bells on the old leather harness Dad had always rung to make me think Santa was just leaving."

I have also read The River Between Us, Peck's historical novel, about free black people escaping New Orleans during the Civil War. The characters are descended from and were basically raised to be mistresses for the white plantation owners of New Orleans. In the historical footnote at the end of the novel, Peck relates that these plantation owners that kept black women in luxurious town accommodations, were largely Catholic. The novel is a fascinating tale of two sisters, one light-skinned, the other dark, who in their flight to the North, pretend to be a white woman and her slave. I do not recommend this book for children. This book might be appropriate for mature young adults, high school age or older.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Few Oldies but Goodies

These authors are not contemporary, but classic.

I can find little biographical info on Gladys Malvern. Her books were first published in the 40s and are now out of print. Jonica's Island (the story of a young girl in Nieuw Amersterdaam in the 1600s) and The Foreigner (a fictionalized account of Ruth) are both excellent. Malvern wrote mostly historical fiction, romance, and biographies. These books are appropriate for all ages, but I love reading them now. (You never are too old for a good story, I guess that's why every five years or so I have to re-read the entire Anne of Green Gables series.) I picked up these titles when a Catholic school closed many years ago, and now I find that these books are worth a fortune on Amazon!

A. J. Cronin wrote the Catholic epic, The Keys of the Kingdom, which was made into an Academy award nominated motion picture with Gregory Peck. He also wrote The Citadel, Shannon's Way, and dozens of others. Many of his books take place in Scotland, and deal with the conflicts between Protestants and Catholics. Because of the heavier subject matter, these books are appropriate for teens and adults. It's not that they are inappropriate, I simply don't think kids will be interested in them. Cronin published from the 1930s through the 1970s.

A third author I recommend is James Herriott. His autobiographical books of veterinary life in Yorkshire from the 1930's to modern times are funny and romantic. Our family has listened to these stories on many road trips. Recommended for all ages.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

This 2002 Caudill Award Nominee is about Luke, a third child in a world where two children is the maximum. The setting is the not-too-distant future, after great famines have wiped out much of the food supply. A totalitarian government that has passed the Population Law rules the nation. Luke's mother has explained it to him this way, "They (the government) did things to women after they had their second baby, so they wouldn't have any more. And if there was a mistake, and a woman got pregnant anyway, she was supposed to get rid of it."

The novel begins with the government removal of the woods behind Luke's home for a subdivision. Because of the increased population near his home, Luke may never again go outside, or even downstairs, for fear someone may figure out that there are three boys in the house, and report them to the Population Police. The punishment for breaking this law is five million dollars or execution.

Luke's father is forced to give up hog raising. The government deems that more acreage is required for the production of meat than vegetation. Junk food has been banned. Calorie consumption is regulated. Domestic pets are extinct.

When the subdivision is complete, Luke watches the homes through the attic vents and learns about the families, their cars, routines etc. But one day, in the middle of the morning, when no one is supposed to be home, he sees a face at a window, another third. He meets Jen, the child of barons (the upper class), who has been in a car, uses a computer, and is working on a crusade to free the hidden third children of the nation. She was "paid for," genetically designed by her baron parents who wanted a girl. She teaches Luke that distribution not over-population is the cause of the world's hunger, and that the government lies about things. She plans a rally of one thousand hidden children that she has found through the internet. She asks Luke to come along, but he is afraid of capture and is not ready to take such a huge risk.

Jen is gone for several weeks, before Luke tries her home again. Jen's father finds Luke and tells him the horrible news that Jen and forty other hidden children were gunned down on the steps of the White House. Jen's father knows this, because he works for the Population Police. He convinces Luke that he is not for the Population Law, but works there to help hidden children, keeping them from being found or supplying them with fake id's when they are. He offers Luke a fake id, and a chance to escape from his hidden life. The Population Police will be searching the area soon looking for Jen's family or friends.

The book ends with Luke starting a new life, ready to take risks to help the hidden, but not reckless risks like Jen's.

There is a humorous mention of bras. Jen is describing the experience of shopping to Luke.
"And then she made me get a bunch of bras--oh, sorry," she said when Luke blushed a deep red. "I guess you don't talk much about bras at your house." "Matthew and Mark do, sometimes, when they're being...dirty," Luke said. "Well, bras aren't dirty," Jen said. "They're just torture device invented by men or mothers or something."

The lessons about propaganda, over-population, forced sterilization are scarily true for many parts of the world. Obviously, due to the mature material in the novel, it is not for all ages. Haddix has written a thought provoking novel that is appropriate for teens.